Monday, May 25, 2015

Man Cub: 10 Months

Dearest Little One,

Each day with you is more fun than the last.  We don't think we want one phase to end, but end up enjoying the next phase so much that we don't mind too much that you're growing.  I can't believe you're 10 months old!  You are changing so much, and just when I think you can't get any happier, you do.  God is filling you with so much joy, and we are grateful.  It's hard to imagine that He loves you more than we do, but I know He does.  Two more weeks and then we get to be together for the whole summer.  We're still praying about what God has in store for our little family for next school year, but I know His plan is perfect and that He won't lead us anywhere that isn't best for you.  We love you!!

Between cutting a tooth and a cold, your sleep wasn't the best this month, but it certainly wasn't awful either.  Mostly, you're back to sleeping through the night.  Sometimes you'll wake up for a few minutes to jabber a bit, and then drift right back off to sleep.  It makes me wonder if you're just counting all your friends and making sure they're all still there with you.  You love your monkeys, elephants, and Sophie the Giraffe!  You're taking solid 2 hour naps both morning and afternoon.  I think it's the upside of growing!

Don't mess with a boy and his food!!  You love to eat!  You like dry cereals, gluten free waffles, and fruit for breakfast.  I can consistently get you to eat sauteed zucchini and squash,  avocados, all fruits (and you've had most of them!), and organic turkey for lunch and dinner.  You eat homemade purees and lots of other things too, but it's hit and miss on what you are in the mood for.  Sometimes you'll eat a few bites of grilled Chick-fil-A nuggets, but you are not a big meat fan at all. 

You love to talk!  You can accurately say Daddy, Mommy, Mama (my mom), pup, baby, Aggie, and Bailey.  You call yourself Baba.  You have so much to tell us and babble constantly!  Walking is something you can do, but choose not to do.  Every once and a while, you talk a couple of steps, then decide you're faster when you crawl, and take off on your hands and knees.  All of your fun tricks from last month have just improved in accuracy this month.  

Riding in your carrier, stroller rides, dancing, being in the swimming pool (Hallelujah!), running with your push toys inside and outside, playing ball with Aggie Belle, bath time, climbing the stairs, seeing animals, riding ponies, sucking your first 2 fingers, reading books, cuddling in our bed in the mornings before we start the day, and singing.  

Most meats, if you get too sleepy or hungry, being in your carseat for more than about 20 minutes

Ten Month Stats:
Weight: 18 pounds, 2 ounces
Length:  28.5 inches
Eating: nursing/breast milk bottles 6:40 am, 10:00 am, 2:00 pm, and, 7:30 pm; breakfast around 7:00, lunch around 11:00, and dinner around 5:30, oatmeal about 7:00 pm.
Bedtime: between 7:45-8:00
Awake: sometime between 5:45-6:15
Naps: usually 9:30 and 2:00. 
Diapers: Size 3
Clothes: size  6-12 and 9 months onesies; size 6 months pants/shorts; 6-12, and 9 months rompers.  You're just sleeping in onesies now for pjs because it's so warm.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Love in the Face of ISIS

I'm a news junkie, that's no surprise around here.  I pray over the stories I hear.  Sometimes these prayers are full of sobs and not many words.  Thankfully, the Spirit is my intercessor to the King, and He knows exactly how to turn my heart cry into the words I lack (Romans 8:26).

ISIS has caused more of these prayers, more of these times during my lunch break, conference period, or middle of the night cries to the Most High, than just about anything else ever has.  The media hasn't given much hope in regards to ISIS.  Our government's lack of action is equivalent to silence and acceptance in my opinion.  I'm one who begs God to show me His work.  I need to see His presence, to cling to hope, to be washed in the reminder that as earth moans and cries out for restoration (Romans 8:19-25), the Creator is busy preparing to right all this wrong. The media isn't providing that for me though.  I've struggled to love the faces I see on the news.  I've struggled to feel towards them the way Jesus loves them.  Anger and frustration cloud my heart, and I stumble in my attempts to see them as Jesus does. 

But there are brave souls who are willing to choose Jesus over self, who will walk into Iraq and Syria and be witnesses to God's work.  Praise You, Lord!  People like Jeff Courtney who will proclaim God's work with his surgical skills.  People like Ann Voskamp who will share God's movement with the gift of her words.  I see the hope.   I rest in God's arms.  My heart sighs with relief at the reminder that evil will not prevail.  It just won't.  God WINS.  Love WINS.

Friends, it isn't up to folks like Jeff and Ann to do the work for us though.  As Ann mentions, we're not called to lives of comfort.  We're called to care and love and live life with wild abandon.  We, you and I, have to stand up to ISIS.  I don't care one lick that they are supposedly half a world away (I highly doubt the accuracy of that location statement).

See, I get so fed up with people telling me, "Oh, it's so nice what you're doing over in Zambia.  That must feel good.  I don't think I could ever go on a trip/spend that kind of time/save up the way you do"  Um, well, it kinda feels good, but that's not why we do it.  We do it because we're passionate about helping families in the name of Jesus.  And we're passionate about living counter-culture.  We feel that humans have been entrusted to us, and we can't turn our backs on a one of them.  We enjoy the American dream, but not at the expense of God's calling on our lives.  His will comes before ours.  Oh,we aren't perfect at it.  I laugh as I type that because we fail daily.  But God.  Oh, His grace to start fresh each morning with better choices in how we spend our time, energy, and money.  And the deeper Isaac and I get into our marriage, and the more we pray about how to raise our family, the less we care about keeping up with the Joneses and more about keeping up with the promptings of the Spirit.  This causes us to beg the Spirit to move in the hearts of those around us to join us in pursuing the heart of Christ and forget about pursuing the whims of man.

So, ISIS.  Yeah, they scare the ever livin' lights out of me.  But I'm tucked in safe in my home with my cushy job and precious family while the families Ann wrote about are living the reality of my nightmares.  I shouldn't fear them.  Jesus.  Remember Him?  He wins.  We're not called to ignore these families because Jesus wins.  We're called to love them.  Will you spend 5 minutes reading Ann's blog and 10 minutes watching Jeremy's testimony:

See, friends, we have ownership in these innocents.  They've been entrusted to us, those who have been given so very much.  And of us, much is required (Luke 12:48).  It's not hard to donate money instead of going out to the movies, and it certainly isn't hard to pray.  But it is our job, one eternally more important than any of my other desires.  

As I sit at home snuggled up with my little man on a bonus day with him, I beg God to break his heart for what breaks His.  Even now, I want this tiny boy to be tender-hearted to the callings of the Most High so that he can make the hard choices to choose Jesus over self.  It's a reminder that he'll watch his daddy and me for examples and guidance, and we can't fail him here.  Too much is at stake.  

You can donate to the families mentioned in Ann's post and Jeremy's video here.  Over $500,000 has been raised in just 3 days.  Let's love in the face of ISIS.  Let's love through our fear and our doubt.  Let's be Jesus to people so scared and desperate that they can't see their way out of their situation.  

Come Lord, Jesus, come (Revelation 22:20b).

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Practice Safari

Man Cub goes on his first safari in Botswana in about 9 weeks.  I decided that we should practice being out in an open vehicle with animals around before the real deal.  Isaac's mom has been with us for this past week, so a family day out at Bayou Wildlife seems like a perfect idea.  We have been to Bayou Wildlife many times, and always enjoy a little glimpse of what God's new Kingdom on earth will be like.  I respect that not everyone is an animal nut like we are.  But...God did create each of these guys, and I never fail to stand in awe of His imagination. 

The tram tours had been suspended most of this week due to the extreme flooding we'd had earlier in the week.  The animals had still been fed and checked on, but guests couldn't get to most of the park.  Since we arrived right when they opened, we were literally the first tram the critters had seen in 3 days.  They were ecstatic to see us!  I wasn't sure how Man Cub would react to being so close to so many big animals, but he was in his own little paradise.  He's like his mommy-the more fur that's around him, that happier he is.  The little guy thought the ever aggressive ostriches and emus were hilarious.  He had no problem reach out for a quick pat of anything that came near.  We'll have to work on that instinct during the real safari-no touching the wild animals!  The sweet boy didn't get fussy even though we were on the tram over a hour.  He simply took it all in and had no trouble sitting still when we were moving.

With Buster.  He's our kissy deer.

Jeffrey.  Man Cub lights up when he eyes a giraffe!


Elands are always one of my favorites. 

What a view and what a ride.  Wait until it's Chobe in Botswana!

Bye bye, deer!

Larry the llama

Cindy has gotten a lot of lovin' from me over the years.  She's a doll.  

We ended our visit with a pony ride.  This boy and equines!

I'm thinking a season pass might be in order.  I love seeing this boy delight in his Lord's creation.  Now, the real safari...I might just melt watching him!  I'm so incredibly excited!  Where are your favorite places to get up close and personal with the animals?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Visit with GiGi

Isaac's grandmother had yet to meet Man Cub, so we had her come for a visit the first weekend in May.  Man Cub is at such a fun age, and we wanted to make sure she was able to enjoy some of his liveliness.  Her visit was full of cuddles, playing with baby toys, walks in the neighborhood, and a trip to the zoo. Man Cub is her first great-grandchild, and she decided she wanted to be called GiGi, short for Great-Grandma. We had a wonderful time, and I'm glad that my sweet boy got to know his great-grandparent on his daddy's side.  He's with my grandparents all the time, so it's only fair!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Work Day at CPC

Our church has a strong relationship with our local Crisis Pregnancy Center.  Our members staff child care for their weekly Bible studies, serve on the advisory committee, and volunteer countless hours helping this non-profit.  In the 11 years that this CPC has been open, thousands of women have chosen life for their babies, and many of those thousands have become Christians.  It's a beautiful thing to see God at work. 

I enjoy taking teens to do chores on Saturdays there.  It's closed for clients, so we have the whole building quiet.  We get to clean the classrooms and any other room needing a wipe down, mark the Bibles the counselors use and give to clients, landscape, and sort donations that the clients can 'buy' with the points they earn from classes.  It's a unique time to pray over the building, the volunteers, the clients, and the work that happens there.  And it's fun to get sweaty.  Why is it so much more enjoyable mopping a building that isn't my home?  Is it because I have friends with me or just the way God likes to surprise me?  Sheesh.

I love when parents come to our monthly mission projects with our teens.  It fills my heart to see teens and their parents working side by side. 

Does your community have a CPC?  What are places that you like to volunteer?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day 2015

It doesn't matter how long a woman has been a mom or how 'official' the title of mom is; it's always a treat to be celebrated for the influence placed on the lives of others.  This day is about so much more than just the women who have birthed and raised a child.  It takes all the women to raise these children.  None of us could do it alone. 

 My munchkin and his daddy made me a journal to write in each year for Mother's Day.  I'm super excited about this!  I like this much better than a card.  I can keep words and pictures all together from year to year and enjoy my memories in one beautiful place. 

After church, we played and everyone was able to nap.  Joy!  Then we went to my grandparents for dinner with my family.  None was in a picture taking mood, but we had a lot of fun playing with our sweet Man Cub.  He ran all over my grandparents with his push toy and thoroughly enjoyed three dogs chasing after him.  He does a fabulous job entertaining all of us. 

I hope you felt cherished on this special day, ladies!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Zambia Trip: FAQs Part II

Picking up where I left off yesterday with Part I:

4) How much does the trip cost?
Since we tack on a few days in Livingstone to explore Victoria Falls and some of God's most unique creations, the trip comes in at just about $3350 a person.  Airfare to Lusaka is almost half that cost.  It's a lot of money, and I know there is a growing trend to say no to such expensive trips, so I'll try to get up a post on why we still choose to go later.  That's a lengthy discussion in its own right.  Thanks to Uncle Sam and our tax return, our trip is nearly completely paid for each time we go.  We save up the rest ourselves.

5) If you can afford the trip, then why did you ask for donations?
We knew this question would be asked this trip, and we were prepared with an answer.  For our previous trips, we never asked anyone to support us financially.  After we got back in 2013, we had a few different friends separately get on to us for that.  They kindly but firmly explained that God needs all of us to do is work, including those who can't go but have $20 sitting around to help someone else do something.  They reminded us that work schedules, health, older age, or care giving keep some people from being asked by God to do the types of things we're doing.  However, He gives them other ways to help, like extra money (even that $20!), extra time to pray while they rock a baby or care for an ailing family member, or a blog to share our stories (HUGE thank you to those who bring attention to ACE/CACZ through their 'pens'!).  We prayed over their counsel and decided that for this trip we'd sent out a support letter primarily seeking prayer but leaving open an option for financial assistance.  We're using the extra money that we have saved to take the kids on a field trip while we're there and for some other projects, like my on-going dream of having a teacher training center attached to our schools.

6) Who else is going with you?
We're taking 4 teens and 3 adults from our church with our family this trip.  I'm excited to be leading a team for the first time.  They've been hard at work studying the book When Helping Hurts and meeting with me once a month to learn more about Zambia, our kids, and how God is at work there.  We've had a requirement of weekly church and Sunday School attendance and at least 3 local mission projects this year. Isaac and I pray this is the beginning of a very long and deep relationship between our church and Zambia.

7) Why are you taking Man Cub?
Yes, our sweet boy could stay 2 weeks with my parents.  And they're the only ones I'd leave him with for that long (ok, you too, Aunt Lala and Uncle David, if you didn't have to work!).  But, he's still nursing and he'll turn one while we're gone, and I am not missing my child's first birthday!  Mostly though, we promised God when we got pregnant never to tell Him no just because something sounded more difficult with a kid in the picture.  Yes, there are a few more details to manage with him present, but every little thing is working out perfectly.  I'm a notoriously HUGE worrier, but I have such peace about this trip.  Isaac and I both want our boy to see that we serve Jesus when it's easy, when it's hard, when it makes sense, when it doesn't make sense, and always, always as a family.  His age doesn't keep him from bringing glory to his Jesus.  This family will be Jesus' hands and feet anywhere we go!

8) What will you do while you're there?
Whatever we're asked to do!  It's Zambia, so our plans stay pretty fluid.  Zambia (and much of the rest of the world) doesn't run on a scheduled clock the way we do.  Some days will be fairly planned and structured with Milk and Medicine.  Other days though, we'll go where we're asked and do what's needed.  We have plans and ideas; there won't be any down time, but we don't have such a set agenda that we'll be upset or bothered if items aren't checked off of it either.  That's one of the reasons we call this more of a vision trip than a mission trip.  We want our team to fall in love with Zambia, see God at work, and then come home to tell their friends and family.  Solo Deo Gloria!  And yes, we'll visit with friends and see my brother too!

What other questions do you have?  Please keep us in your prayers!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

FAQs About Our Zambia Trip

Folks have been asking, so it's time for a little FAQ session about Zambia/our trip/our work!

1) Where are you going?
We are going to Lusaka, Zambia in southern Africa.  Yep, southern Africa, as in below the Equator. So while our friends and family are sweltering away in 90+ degree heat, we'll be in no humidity coolness.  That's 40s and 50s in the mornings to 60s to MAYBE 80 in the afternoons.  Divine, I say! Zambia is one of the poorest countries in the world, with the vast majority of the population living on less than $1 a day.  Yet, their spiritual wealth is immense.  Zambia also has the highest ratio of orphans of any nation in the world.  Sadly, many of the children aren't truly orphans but are abandoned due to the immense poverty.  More on that in a minute.


2) Who do you work with?
We work with a ministry called Alliance for Children Everywhere (ACE).  In Zambia, it's called Christian Alliance for Children, Zambia (CACZ) because they wanted to make their work their own. That's exactly how we want it-for the Zambians to have complete ownership in the work that God is doing in their nation.  

We are not an orphanage.  Orphanages in Zambia are incredibly hard for a child to leave.  The way Zambia (and many other nations) structures orphanages, funding is based on the number of children in the home.  Most orphanages then try to keep children in their care until they age out around 19 years old.  We do not want this for our children, so we have 2 transition homes.  We want our children in families as quickly as possible, so they are with us as they transition from one place to the next.  Our infant home is for birth-about age 2, and the older home takes the children after they turn 2.  When the police or social services bring children to us, our social workers do all they can to reunite them with relatives.  If that isn't possible for any number of reasons, they are placed in a foster home.  Often, the foster parents end up adopting the children.  The children might stay in our home until they are adopted by a local family.  A few of our children are adopted internationally, but since Zambia is not a part of the Hague Convention, this is incredibly difficult to do.  Oh, and on occasion, we just have happy stories like this: during my first trip 5 years ago, we had twins who were born incredibly premature.  Their mother died having them.  They lived out in the bush, and their father didn't have a way to feed this sweet brother and sister.  He brought them to the city and left them with us to care for until they were weaned.  They are now 5 and with their dad.   They were less than 3 pounds each when they came to us.  I have a picture of me holding one in each arm, just a little over 3 pounds each.  Loving on those two is one of my most favorite memories ever.   *Because our children are in the care of social services, I can't share their pictures, but know they are adorable and so very, very loved!  

We also have 7 primary schools called Faith Works.  ACE/CACZ supports local churches who run schools.  It's a beautiful thing to see these students at school each day.  We also have a secondary school-Helen DeVos Secondary School-that is grades 7-12.  It currently has a 100% graduation rate with some of the highest test scores in the nation.  That says it all, right?  Not quite....there are also sports teams, an internet computer lab and library, a choir, and a very fun journalism team.  This school is made of mostly orphans and low-income teens.  It rocks my socks, and I adore being there.

Then there is Milk and Medicine, the crux of all we do.  Without it, we'd be missing what makes us tick.  We don't want to have our transition homes.  We want kids with their families.  So often these children in our homes have living parents and/or family members but have been abandoned due to the extreme poverty of so many families.  No family should have to be faced with that choice.  To prevent ever even needing our transition homes, we also have the Milk and Medicine program to support struggling families so they don't feel the crushing weight of deciding whether to survive or abandon a child.  As they learn how to support their families, families become stable and lose the extreme risk of falling apart.  All of this is done in the name of Jesus.  We're now working with some corporate grants to help our families build a small business to be able to independently support themselves.  We want to see graduates of Milk and Medicine who helps their neighbors.  It's in the baby steps still, but it's working, and Jesus is completely in the midst of it.

I think the thing I might be most proud of, and most excited to see God doing, is the foster care program ACE/CACZ has helped create with local churches.  Foster families from local congregations have been interviewed, chosen, and trained, and we are now in our 2nd round of foster families.  This means we can more quickly get children into a family environment when they come to us.  The Holy Spirit has been moving in several churches in Lusaka that these children are their children and need to be with them for as long as it takes.  We've even had some 'foster failures' where the foster family just can't dream of life without their little foster kiddo and have adopted him/her.

What do I love most about all of this?  It's nearly completely Zambian run.  Americans aren't on the ground year round.  Yes, they can come to the advisory board/board of directors, and there is a lot of contact, but we aren't managing every decision made or telling them what's best.  The ownership is there's.  It's a beautiful thing to have watched this happen.

3) Where are you staying?
One of our transition homes has a ladies' dorm and a guys' dorm.  It's like going to summer camp: bunk beds, not nearly enough showers (but that's not important!), shared meals, and earplugs to drown out snoring.  :)  But really, it's so nice to be right there with the kids.  There is an American couple (Hi Don and Jane!!) who will be there all summer to take care of the teams who come so that we aren't a burden on the house mamas and other staff.  When I'm a grandma, I want Don and Jane's job.  It rocks.   I love that we can slip into one of the 2 nurseries to love on babies and lend the house mamas a hand whenever we're at the house.  I love all the volunteers coming in and out, and visiting with the social workers in their offices.  I love joking around with our security guards over cups of tea and buttered bread.  A hotel or guest house couldn't compare to being with those we consider family.  

Part II is here!
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